EXIT PLAN: Troop drawdown will lead to NATO playing a supporting role, says Anders Fogh Rasmussen.
TALLINN - N ATO foreign ministers on Dec. 13 sealed a plan for international troops and civilian staff in Afghanistan to hand over responsibility to the local military and government, reports news agency LETA. In talks in Tallinn, the ministers endorsed guidelines for passing control to the Afghans, as NATO and U.S.-led troops drive Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters out of provinces across the insurgency-hit country, Canada.com reported referring to AFP.
“We agreed on the approach we will take to transition. We set out a process, the conditions that will have to be met, and what we will do to make those conditions happen,” NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said. “Where it occurs, transition must not just be sustainable but irreversible,” he told reporters after the meeting, underlining that “It will not be a run for the exit.”
“We will hand over responsibility to the Afghan security forces and then our soldiers will play a supporting role,” he added.
NATO leads a force of some 90,000 troops drawn from more than 40 nations, but it has struggled to defeat the insurgency and convince ordinary Afghans that it will stay long-term to ensure they are safe. The only way they can eventually go is when the Afghans are able to provide for their own security, but as casualties rise international forces are under growing pressure in Afghanistan and at home to leave.
“As of today, we have a roadmap that will lead towards transition to Afghan lead starting this year, at which point our publics will start to see the progress for which they have been quite rightly been asking,” Rasmussen said. He said he hoped that the Afghan government and the international community would endorse the plan at a conference in Kabul in mid-July, with the whole process being launched by November, when NATO holds its next summit.
The transition lays out a political framework for security, which NATO and its partners would then clear with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a source close to the talks said. The way it would happen, region by region, would be worked out between international civilian staff, troops and the Afghans themselves on the ground based on political and security conditions, the source explained.
“Today is [time] for a political dialogue with all the partners that are contributing to Afghanistan and I think that will reinforce the sense of moving forward, that’s what we need,” said Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
A senior U.S. State Department official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she raised “the whole gamut of issues, with the emphasis on the civilian side: where things stand, where they need to go.” She was also to talk to Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmai Rassoul.
As part of the transition, Rasmussen has called for 450 more trainers to help develop the Afghan army and police, as NATO strives to build them up over the next four years. The U.S. official told reporters that Ms. Clinton also aimed to “give more impetus to closing that shortfall.”
Asked if Ms. Clinton would urge other members to match U.S. efforts to deploy more agriculture, legal and other experts to Afghanistan, he replied: “It’s not just about bodies on the ground.” It will be about “how to maintain a long-term civilian commitment there, not just us but the entire coalition of nations that are involved, as well as non-troop contributing countries like Japan and others,” he said.
In announcing his revamped strategy for Afghanistan in December, U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of 30,000 new troops to the war-torn country and named July 2011 as the date for their drawdown to begin. But he has repeated that the speed of the U.S. drawdown and departure from Afghanistan of U.S. and allied troops would be dictated by how successful they were in stabilizing the country.
International troops have been in Afghanistan since late 2001, when a U.S.-led coalition ousted its hard-line Islamist Taliban regime.